China and a New Union in the Horn of Africa

Change in the International Balance of Power

Dr. Yassir M. Alobaid

In light of international and regional competition, the Horn of Africa is really under a new international balance of power and remains the focus of the attention of many regional and international powers, for geopolitical and strategic considerations, as it is the crossing and the main artery for international trade as a result of the extension of its water crossings from Bab Al-Mandeb to Al-Bajr Al-Ahmar.

It is also considered the central gateway to oil produced in the Gulf, which represents % The matter of 26 limits contributed to the intensification of international and regional competition to obtain a position of influence in the region. What complicates the general scene in recent decades is the contribution of geostrategic variables in the world to the upgrading of the Horn of Africa to its importance as an arena for rearranging the balance of power to enhance influence and establish its presence through military and economic mechanisms.

The importance of the Horn of Africa region is due to several considerations, including:

  • The Horn of Africa region has huge geostrategic and economic capabilities that make it one of the most vital areas in the world.
  • International competition, whether at the military or economic level, over the region, is a catalyst for the deterioration of the security, political and economic conditions in the Horn of Africa, as a result of international powers tightening their control over the sea lanes as well as the strategic locations in the region.
  • The Horn of Africa region receives the attention of a group of international powers, such as the United States and China, as well as regional powers, led by Britain, France, and Germany, because the region represents a strategic depth and a huge source of wealth that makes it one of the most important regions in the world
  • The Horn of Africa region has become one of the most vital regions in the world, making it the subject of the ambitions of international and regional powers, and an arena for competition to obtain its economic benefits and benefit from its geostrategic position, as well as to expand the outlets of the military presence in the region, using political, economic or military pressure methods. This resulted in fragility at the level of the security environment as a result of the growing sources of threat affecting the region, which led to the expansion of wars and conflicts and an increase in the frequency of terrorism and piracy crimes.

On the other hand, Sudan today welcomed China’s decision to appoint a special envoy for the Horn of Africa, within the framework of China’s initiative for peaceful development in the Horn of Africa. The Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a press statement, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Sudan welcomes the appointment of Xue Bing as a special envoy of the Chinese Foreign Ministry for the Horn of Africa in the framework of China’s Peaceful Development Initiative in the Horn of Africa. A strategic strategy for the countries of the Horn of Africa will certainly contribute to achieving peace and stability and advancing the process of economic development in the region.” The Sudanese Foreign Ministry affirmed its readiness to support the efforts of the Chinese envoy, facilitate his tasks and conduct the necessary coordination and contacts for the success of the initiative.

She expressed the envoy’s visit to Sudan as soon as possible to enhance communication and coordination with the Chinese side to advance and develop relations between the two countries and play a positive role in advancing the political transition process in Sudan. “The envoy, with his accumulated diplomatic experience, will contribute to promoting development and achieving long-term stability and peace in the Horn of Africa,” she said.

Last February, China appointed Xue Bing as its new envoy to the Horn of Africa. Xue previously served as China’s ambassador to Guinea. On the other hand, the Chinese government submitted to the countries of the Horn of Africa the formation of an organization under the name “Union of the States of the Horn of Africa”, to be announced next June. The sources said that the proposal was submitted by the Chinese Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Xue Bing, and includes economic, security, and political cooperation between the countries of the Horn of Africa.

The proposal includes unifying the currency among all countries, establishing railways and transportation links between the capitals of the Horn of Africa, exempting them from travel visa fees, and activating trade and economic cooperation with the direct support of the Chinese government.

The sources pointed out that the Chinese envoy to the Horn of Africa, who visited Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, and South Sudan, formally presented the proposal from the Beijing government to the heads of all the countries he visited, and expected that the proposed envoy would present it to Uganda, on Friday or Saturday. The sources quoted the Chinese envoy as saying that his country “supports the formation of a union for the countries of the Horn of Africa,” explaining that China “arranges to hold a conference to announce the union, next June,” and suggested that “the conference will be delayed until July, for further arrangements and consultations.”

Sudanese sources told Al-Sharq that the Chinese special envoy to the Middle East, Zhai Jun, met the head of the Sudanese Sovereign Council, Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, and handed him a message related to the proposal.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi announced last January that his country would appoint a special envoy for the Horn of Africa to support efforts to overcome current security challenges and ensure long-term peace and prosperity in the region. Later, Xue Ping was named China’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa.

The Horn of Africa is the region located at the head of the Bab al-Mandab Strait on the African coast. It is bordered by the Indian Ocean to the south and the Red Sea to the north. It includes Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Ethiopia. Some geographers enter Sudan and Kenya, and it is a strategic regions for Asia and Africa.

China has been seeking for decades to enhance its influence and presence in Africa through “soft power” diplomacy, as much as it relies on giant infrastructure projects, intending to fill the void left by the decline in the role of Western countries and the United States in several sectors, according to a report by the magazine “Foreign Affairs”, in last December.

Over the past two decades, Beijing has spent billions to build dams, highways, railways, and ports in countries from the north to the south, the American magazine said. And China built its first military base outside the country in Djibouti in 2017, and said that it is “used to supply and support Chinese naval vessels participating in peacekeeping operations and humanitarian missions, off the Yemeni and Somali coasts in particular.”

The Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, announced the appointment of a special envoy to promote “lasting stability, peace and prosperity” in the Horn of Africa, where the region is witnessing regional conflicts and civil wars, during his tour in Eritrea, Kenya and Comoros during January 2022, which comes within the framework of the diplomatic tradition of That foreign ministers from China head to Africa on their first foreign visits spanning more than three decades.

The motives for appointing the Chinese envoy to the Horn of Africa varied between political, strategic, and economic motives, which can be described as competing with Western influence in the region, as China does not rely on providing its assistance. The economic conditions of African countries are based on the principle of political conditionality, unlike Western countries, which have long linked their economic aid to the extent of democracy, or the fulfillment of certain political demands.

While the United States was imposing sanctions on governments in the Horn of Africa for reasons related to its domestic policy, China refused to do so by asserting that it would not interfere in the internal affairs of these countries, but rather was seeking to strengthen its economic relations with their countries, and given the decision to appoint a Chinese envoy to the Horn of Africa as An attempt to compete with the influence of the United States and other Western powers, whose diplomatic efforts have recently faltered to end the civil war in Ethiopia, and largely protect Sudan’s democratic transition. It is noted that in conjunction with China’s announcement of the appointment of its new envoy in January 2022, Washington appointed a new US envoy, “David Satterfield”, who, in cooperation with the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Molly Vey, is striving to find solutions to the political crises taking place in Sudan and Ethiopia from During the repeated visits of the American envoy to these countries and the employment of the economic sanctions tool.

In the context of the United States’ awareness of the danger of the growing Chinese influence on the African continent, the American president announced his intention to hold an American-African summit. And do not look at the States.

The United States alone is concerned about the escalation of the Chinese role in the African continent, as Paris shares the same concerns, a development that Paris sought to confront by confirming its relations with African countries. It is worth noting that the Horn of Africa region is characterized by enormous natural resources. It is full of rivers, lakes, forests, and animal wealth. It has rich untapped deposits of natural resources, including gold, oil, natural gas, and other resources. The Horn of Africa region is also considered the gateway through which Chinese trade passes from mainland China toward Europe. This explains the presence of a Chinese military base in Djibouti to represent a fulcrum for the Chinese naval forces to secure their trade passing through the region.

As well as protecting its investments. China is also the largest economic partner and the first investor in the Horn of Africa, through directing investments and establishing projects in this region, as well as providing aid and loans to the countries of the continent. The biggest reason behind appointing a new envoy to Africa is to protect Chinese investments in the Horn of Africa, especially in light of the escalation of violence in the region and its potential threat to Chinese investments. It should be noted that China remains the largest lender to many countries in the sub-Saharan region, with Chinese loans representing about one-fifth of the total.

Annual Chinese lending peaked at $29.5 billion in 2016, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University’s China and Africa Research Initiative, although in 2019 it fell to $7.6 billion. Ethiopia is one of the largest recipients of Chinese loans and investment, which includes financing a railway from Addis Ababa to Djibouti, which sees 95 percent of Ethiopian imports, as well as the expansion of Addis Ababa airport. China has also financed development projects in Djibouti, which are valued at about $16.6 million, and China invests mainly in the infrastructure and energy sectors in the Horn of Africa.

Determinants of Beijing’s African role China has also worked in financing the oil extraction project in Sudan and is the largest partner in the oil industry in Sudan. Especially several political and economic determinants mainly contribute to influencing the expected Chinese role in the Horn of Africa, in playing active external roles Beijing affirms its readiness to play a constructive and important role in the efforts of the countries of the Horn of Africa to achieve peace and security in the region, to unleash the potential of development and improve governance in the countries of the region, especially as it has been deliberately avoiding interference in the internal affairs of countries in the region as well as non-interference in the political conflicts of countries with a focus on its economic interests.

On the other hand, some analysts interpreted China’s pledge to appoint a peace envoy to the Horn of Africa as an “official” departure from its traditional position of non-interference in the affairs of other countries, and an indication of its tendency to play an active role in the international arena, politically, economically, and perhaps militarily at a later stage.

It is noted that Chinese policy has undergone a transformation with the accession of President “Xi Jinping” to power in 2012, as the Chinese state tended to ease the policy of non-interference that it had officially committed to for more than 60 years, as Beijing established during the era of Xi Jinping, the first naval base With a foreign force in Djibouti with a force of 10,000 soldiers, China seeks to play and establish sustainable economic relations: By appointing a special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Beijing seeks to deny Western allegations about China adopting a “debt trap” policy towards African countries, as Western analyzes claim that China it seeks to provide huge loans to the countries of the continent.

However, some intersections have indirectly contributed to the decline in China’s financial pledges to Africa for the first time in more than a decade, to reach about 40 billion dollars, during the recent China-Africa Cooperation Forum, which is less by about 33 This decrease in the volume of Chinese funds destined to Africa represents an unprecedented development, especially since China has always doubled its financial commitments to the continent every three years since 2006, and it is the main tool Desperate Beijing to manage its relationship with the continent. It is worth noting that in the past decade, China has emerged as the largest non-commercial international creditor in the world, as Chinese state-owned banks have provided more loans to developing countries than the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

It should be noted that the decline in Chinese loans provided was accompanied by Beijing’s announcement that it would increase the volume of its imports from African countries, which was crystallized during the recent China-Africa Cooperation Forum, as the Chinese government announced an increase in its imports from Africa to a total of 300 billion dollars in the three years. This announcement reveals China’s keenness to convey an image of it that it seeks to establish economic relations based on mutual profit for both parties and that it seeks to achieve a trade balance with Africa.

It is worth noting that the trade deficit between China and Africa increased in 2020 by 243%, with Chinese exports recording a value of $114.2 billion, while the value of Chinese imports amounted to about $72.7 billion. In estimation, it can be said that the failure of Western countries to deal with successive crises in the Horn of Africa, and Beijing’s concern about the reflection of these conflicts on its economic interests, represented an opportunity for Beijing to start playing an active political role, in addition to its broad economic role in the African continent.

This means that the Western influence in general, and the Americans in particular, will witness. A relative decline in light of its adoption of the establishment of a union of the Crimean African countries, especially since China can present an economic alternative. And investment from the sanctions weapon that the countries of the region suffer from.

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